4 Steps That Produce Word-of-Mouth Referrals

How to get your customers to willingly spread the word about your brand.

A marketing research firm in 2013 surveyed people from over 50 countries and asked them the following question: “To what extent do you trust the following forms of advertising?”

On the list were branded websites, online consumer opinions, editorial content, ads in newspapers and magazines, billboards, and so on.

Which do you think had the highest percent of trust?

“Recommendations from people I know.”

84% of people surveyed said they would trust word-of-mouth referrals over any other form of advertising, up from 78% in 2007. Someone could be on the fence about a product, and then based on a good word from a friend, they would go buy.

Word-of-mouth referrals are easily the most valuable and powerful form of marketing for a brand. All you have to do is provide a delightfully positive experience and let your customers do the rest.

Achieving word-of-mouth referrals is both the most rewarding and taxing form of marketing, because you can’t put it on autopilot and expect it to work. It’s not possible to open up Facebook Ads and buy a word-of-mouth referral, it requires a deeper impact.

Your customers have to want to recommend you.

There are four basic steps to becoming the kind of brand that people will want to tell their friends and family about.

1. Create a Delightful Experience

Buying products online always seems to have a 50/50 chance of being smooth and seamless or remarkably annoying. I’ve done my fair share of online shopping, and trust me, I’ve seen it all: everything from broken, unsecured forms coded in 2007 to being sent through four different sites just to check out a single product.

One experience always stood out to me:

I was buying a shirt from an online store, and when I added the product to my cart, the whole page animated smoothly to show me the pre-checkout area, as if it had just been sitting right offscreen. Intrigued, I clicked “Checkout”, and it slid over again, with the buttery-smoothness of water on oil.

I loved that experience. Everything was contained in the same site with no refreshing, no lag time, no transfers. It simply worked.

You create a delightful experience when you think of the details even though nobody expects you to.

The average person is expecting a standard experience when they go to a website or enter a store. They might have a goal, they might just be browsing, but their expectations are relatively normalized based on their personality.

Go above and beyond to deliver an unforgettable experience. It’s hard to forget a surprisingly wonderful moment.

This could look like free samples in your storefront, or a free download just for browsing your website. It might require you to pay your developer a little more money to make your website function perfectly. Crafting a delightful experience means producing a great experience and then taking it a few steps further.

Investing in quality is always a smart move. Kyle Adams (my co-host on Behind the Brand) and I could have just gone out and purchased cheap USB microphones to record our podcast with. We would have certainly saved more money, but instead we invested several hundred dollars into Shure SM7B microphones so that listening to our podcast would be a great audio experience for our listeners.

Take some time and think through your audience’s interaction with your brand. What can you do to get your customers to think, “Wow, I love that they thought of that! I didn’t expect that at all.”?

2. Show Your Customers You Care

Brands are made by people for people. This is crucial to receiving word-of-mouth recommendations. Human connection is what makes people feel heard and valued.

Plan for contingencies and worst case scenarios when it comes to your company, and let every one of your customers know that you are for them and will do whatever you can to resolve any issues. Address their pain points and let your audience know you are listening.

If you’ve ever called up a company’s customer support line with problems for a product or service, you might notice that most of them will listen to your problem and then repeat the problem back to you. It might go something like this:

Support: “Hello, thank you for calling Digital Goods, Inc. My name is Sam. How can I help?” 
Me: “Hi Sam. I’ve been having issues logging into my account, and it’s been a frustrating few days because I can’t access anything I’ve purchased.” 
Support: “I’m very sorry to hear that you’re having login problems, Cory. I’m going to make sure that this is resolved for you and make sure you can get access to your products.”

Sure, that might look simple, and the support person may be reading from a script, but it also communicates something a little deeper. It demonstrates to the customer that you want to listen and they will be heard.

Nothing will prevent word-of-mouth recommendations like a customer feeling that they weren’t cared for.

3. Follow-Up Whenever Possible

Producing a delightful experience doesn’t end with the customer receiving their product or gaining access to your services. Your brand can remain memorable by staying near the forefront of your audience’s minds.

It can be a little tricky to perform follow-ups without coming across as sneaky or trying to get something else from your customers, but the best rule of thumb is to keep it simple, and keep it focused on them.

This could be a short personal email asking how their experience was and if there’s anything you can do to make their next experience better. Leave it open-ended and in their hands. If you’ve done your job right, it’ll be an easy reply for those customers to respond with all the praise your brand deserves.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but don’t overdo it on the follow-ups. I recently received some great legal counsel over the phone, but since that phone call I’ve received three or four calls, voicemails, and even more emails seeking further business. What started off as a great experience has left a poor taste in my mouth because I feel overwhelmed by their communications.

Be simple, be direct, and make sure your audience feels heard.

Address any problems or concerns that arise quickly and positively. You might lose some money in solving the problem, but a lifelong customer is more valuable than shipping another item or granting a free month of membership for the inconvenience.

4. Actually Ask For Referrals

Many people avoid asking because they don’t want to seem needy, but if you don’t ask you won’t receive.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for referrals if your customer’s experience has been positive. Make sure you know if their experience was positive or not.

When you ask for referrals, make sure that you’ve already given them the opportunity to let you know if there’s anything else you can do. The more times you can give value, the better.

You have two options for the ask: subtle and direct.

The subtle ask might look something like this: “If you know anyone who would benefit from our product in the same way you have, we’d love to have the chance to serve them as well!”

Or try a direct ask: “Would you be willing to share your experience with anyone you know who would also benefit from the services we provide?”

If you’ve spent the time crafting a delightfully positive experience, you’ll get a “yes” almost every time.


My name is Cory Miller. I am the host of a podcast called Behind the Brand, and I wrote a 40-page guide on establishing a successful brand foundation, just for you.

You can also find me on Twitter.